First off, allow me to apologize to many of you out there in the RPG world. Let me put this in context by telling you a brief story before I get into the brunt of my thought process. When I began writing this, I was honestly not thinking from the perspective that this hobby has exploded within recent years, and so many of you are new to this world that has been a home for me for so long. People out here are introduced to D&D these days every 2 minutes, it seems, not realizing that there is so much more out there than just D&D.
I need to thank my lovely wife, for opening my eyes. She noted that I have this level of frustration with the online world that never seems to come through when I am introducing someone that I know is new to the game. Her assessment was utterly accurate, though. Even though I would never intentionally belittle a person or make them feel less for asking a question, I would frequently vent to my wife about their lack of knowledge. Or even worse, actually be baffled by why someone would ask such a question.
It was then that she pointed out to me that I’ve been into this hobby since childhood. Also, the fact that I’ve played every sort of game under the sun. She reminded me that I have had my hand in game design as well as writing fiction and lore. What she made me realize was that I was taking what I have come to call the “Paradigm Shift” for granted.
So I might as well explain what it is that I’m speaking about. A paradigm shift is defined as a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. Made popular most recently by the Time Management guru Steven R. Covey (author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), who often compared it to the relief and change of sight that comes from putting on the “correct” prescription of glasses when one had been wearing the “wrong” one for so long. With that being said, I have to admit I had tons of assumptions about those coming into this hobby and what they must already (and should) know.
Whenever I spoke to people, I was coming from the standpoint of my knowledge and experience in this realm. So coming forward in time, I found myself in a place around 15 years ago or so that I was genuinely losing my luster for RPGs in general. I wanted something else that wasn’t prevalent in the gaming world. I was looking for something, but I wasn’t truly able to define it.
So I did what any long-time gamer (at least in my mind) would do. I sat down and started designing my own game. I think it would have been a masterpiece as well, but alas, I will never know… perhaps. Real-life stepped in and began to lay waste to all my plans. I went through a divorce. I lost my father on my birthday six months later. I lost my grandmother and best friend in the space of a few more months. So, needless to say, my game design plans went out the window in favor of real life, which at this time, is neither here nor there. I say all this because it is the background for what led me to this thought process. It set up the circumstances for me to discover in myself this paradigm shift.
After a few years, I removed myself from all the drama and upheaval in my life. I happened to be reading online one day, and the article I was reading led me to the Kickstarter page for Numenera. The overall concept of the game spoke to something in me. I didn’t even realize at the time just how much of an game-changer it was. Like many of you, however, I took the plunge and backed the Kickstarter. Little did I know that this game would be the catalyst for my paradigm shift. When I first started reading the core rules to Numenera, I knew it was special, but I didn’t realize how special it was or the intensity of the impact it was having on me. You need to understand, it was almost a full two years before I got to run a game in the Ninth World. Mind you, in that time, I also backed another Kickstarter from Monte Cook Games for their next game: The Strange.
So like I said earlier, approximately two years later, I ran my first Numenera session, and while I wasn’t convinced, I knew there was something there. So I did it again but this time, I rejected the usual conventions I was used to in most gaming systems. Instead of trying to run the session the way I had been previously, I used the advice they gave in the book to do so. It was then that I realized that the Cypher System is designed to get out my way and allow the story to flow.
Games powered by the Cypher System are modular, which allows the GM to tell whatever story he wants. It empowers you to bring a much more cinematic flair to your game table. As I’ve grown as a GM in this system, I’ve realized that with it, I can do whatever I need to do. I’ve added intricacies to the game, while never having to create a entirely new mechanic.
I honestly have to say Monte Cook did a beautiful thing with this system. What I mean by this is that while the system has indeed evolved from its beginnings, it is still what I think Monte Cook wanted it to be all along. This system allows you to jump into any genre of game and run like the wind. My friend Anthony and I have run everything under the sun with the Cypher System. We’ve had a success rate unparalleled in my experience. I know many people will argue this point with me, but I think that’s because they have yet to experience the “Paradigm Shift.” Charles Ryan states in one of his articles on Cypher System on the Monte Cook Games website that the rules are there for players, and the GM is unbound. As GM, can you understand how liberating that thought process is? How refreshing?
And now it falls to you. It’s time to step out of the way of your own game. It’s time for your Paradigm Shift!
- Dean M. Lewis